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SOUL JONES BLOG ON SLY & THE FAMILY STONE
Inspired by their Sly & The Family Stone's "Woodstock" album, Soul Jones, tunes in and drops outs, transporting himself back to that field in upstate New York in 1969 to write a fictional account of the whole experience.


Friday August 15th. Day One – Woodstock

“Man, it’s your trip.” My buddy hands me some acid, it’s a brown colour.

“Not sure about it …”

“Why man?”

“It's together man, but it’s just too crowded here, I dunno, it may be a drag.”

“It’s crowded sure but it's family man, everyone here … it's just family they’ve all got their own trip. If it gets too intense we’ll just split to the back.”

“Alright Mike, groovy … give me the tab.”

1 minute after taking the tab there’s an announcement on the huge speakers.

“The brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It’s suggested that you do not take it but it is your own trip so please be advised that there is a warning on that one. Ok?”

60 seconds. What a pisser.

Saturday August 16th. Day Two – Woodstock

350,000 freaks are in a field in Bethel County at the Woodstock Music & Art Festival. Billed as 3 days of Peace & Music, before I left my Dad called it “the largest organised communist gathering in the US”, he wasn’t joking either.

Me and 3 of my friends (Mike, Bobby & Sean) made it here yesterday. At $18 a ticket we didn’t buy any so we found a way in through a hole in the fence (admittedly the hole wasn’t there before we opened it). Last night Joan Baez freaked me out, I was still tripping on the brown acid when her "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" threatened to land on my head. I managed to catch 5 hours and sleep off the poison. But Saturday has been a slog. There was a downpour that meant I’ve spent all evening with mud in my beard and hair. So I asked Bobby to wake me when The Who are about to perform.

3.30am Sunday August 17th. Day Three – Woodstock

The Who haven’t been on yet. But my semi-conscious sleep was interrupted 5 minutes ago. A loud Soul group called Sly & The Family Stone have hit the stage.

The lead guy behind the organ with huge sideburns (I guess that’s Sly), he started shouting “HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!” soon the dude on bass with bigger hair than mine joins in. It’s a count in – the monstrous beat of “M’Lady” starts & it wakes everybody up (everyone except my alarm clock Bobby… the snake). This is not your average Motown pop soul stuff, the groove is aggressive but over the top is chicken scratch guitar playing, a horn section with a white long haired dude on saxophone and a black woman on trumpet. That’s right a chick and she’s damn good too. Unlike the percussive call and response jams that James Brown has been putting in the charts this music radiates harmony. Felt in every sense from a band made up of men, women, black skin, brown skin, white skin, pink skin, blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes & couple of red eyes. Say it loud – were brown/pink and proud. The band leader Sly Stone has white cowboy tassels flowing from his shirt sleeves, when his arms are outstretched he looks like a black & white eagle (lucky I’m not still tripping). The song ends with an impromptu sounding harmony attack, each voice intertwining, making strange syllable noises (“cha cha choo choo chagoo”) to make a funk rhythm but it works. Then it finishes, there’s a pause and the crowd is hooked, but there’s silence from the stage. Sly talks to the audience for the first time…

“See there’s a problem here, is that we have some equipment…”

“C’MON!!” shouts a jerk in the front

“Wait a minute man,” Sly addresses him and continues “we have some equipment that is not working properly. So what we can do is either hurry up and play to avoid waking you up or wait until this shit works properly.” Rose Stone, his sister and vocalist starts into the mic “check, check, check.” Sly says “That’s cool,” the band is fully operational again.

Sly’s organ and his brother Freddies wah wah guitar introduce the chick trumpet player (Cynthia Robinson), who screams the song title “Sing A Simple Song!” as the whole band slip straight back into the heavy Slop (black rock funked up with soul = slop).

The hits flow into each other as if they’re one continuously rising crescendo “You Can Make It If You Try”, into the uplifting anthem “Everday People” onto the relentless groove of “Dance To The Music/Music Lover”. Breaking down to just drummer Greg Errico, each instrument falls in when the next player introduces themselves – Bassist (guitar and vocals) Larry Graham sings “Music for the human race, im gonna add some funky bass” his fuzz bass vibrates through the skeleton. Everybody is up now, even Bobby. And I’m not one for dancing in public, I prefer the comfort of my own bedroom when I get down (because I resemble Joe Cocker in full flow) but here I am in a field and I can feel myself start to move. The band break the music down to a light simmering groove. Again, Sly steps to the mic…

“What we would like to do is sing a song together …”

Uh oh … I don’t like to sing neither but Sly continues...

“Now you see what usually happens is you get a group of people who might sing but for some unknown reasons that are not unknown anymore they won’t do it …”

I’m thinking ‘Sly I’m not singing, there was a reason I used to mumble the national anthem in home room’ but he carries on...

“Most of us need approval, most of us need to get a approval from our neighbours before we can let it all hang down …uhuh ya dig?”

I dig, Sly I dig but I’ll let everyone else sing. I’m maintaining cool.

“We would like to sing a song called ‘Higher’ and if we can get everybody to sing along we would appreciate it,” the funk is gurgling in the background, “everybody’s grooving and carryin’ on ….”

Sly sings in a Ray Charles like growl “Wanna take you higher!”

“HIGHER!” 80,000 people reply.

Sly’s not satisfied with the turn out “Just sing Higher and throw the peace sign up it’ll do you no harm…Wanna take you higher!”

“HIGHER!” 100,000 strong.

“Still again some people feel they shouldn’t, because there are situations where you need approval to get in on something that could be sooo good”

True.

“Wanna take you higher!”

“HIGHER!”

Now i’m in. Me and 199,999 others yell at the top of our lungs. Together man, our voices sound incredible – I’ve never been to a church like this, an electric church. If it was like this every Sunday I’d be the first to go. Still Sly wants more…

“If you throw the peace sign up and say Higher and get everybody to do it, there’s a whole lot of people here and a whole of people might not want to do it because they can somehow get around it and feel there are enough people to make up for it and on and on. Etcetera, etcetera … RAAAA …..Wanna take you higher!”

“HIGHER!” 250,000 including Mike and a redhaired chick he was doing Yoga with earlier.

“Way up on the hill…,” Sly wants everybody “Wanna take you higher!”

“HIGHER!” 300,000 Bobby & Sean are in. the music gets faster…

“Wanna take you higher! …HIGHER!”

350,000. The groove is galloping.

Then everyone – every person on this field in call and response –

“Higher!“

“HIGHER!”, “Higher!“ “HIGHER!”, “Higher!“ “HIGHER!” …

“YEEEEAAAAHHHH – YEAH YEH” Sly screams in appreciation.

Real goosebumps go right down from the neck to the knees. I’ve never felt this before.

Where has this music been all my life? Sly and the band lead us through 2 encores. Including a full Slop masterpiece called either “I Wanna Take You Higher” (the song used in the chant) or “Boom-Lakka-Lakka” – it’s horns and rock guitars living together in one nasty groove, who’d have imagined that horns AND heavy guitar? Who indeed … which reminds me, who is the band I been waiting for? Bobby? He don’t know either. We’ve taken no drugs, haven’t drank anything but were higher.

Sly & The Family Stone have taken us there. Sly Stone is gonna save the world.

Soul Jones ‘69

  
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